The culture-clash comic melodrama "Real Women Have Curves" is effervescent and satisfying, a crowd pleaser that does not condescend. And it is a crowd pleaser; the tumultuous audience response to "Curves" during screenings at this year's Sundance Film Festival made it a sure Dramatic Audience Award winner. (The movie, which opens the New Directors/New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art tonight, also received a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for its ensemble cast.) It's rare to see a movie about two strong-willed women, let alone a film in which the one who's in the wrong is not painted unequivocally as a heartless villain.
The generational conflict is set off between the blossoming Ana (America Ferrera), a Mexican-American teenager who has a chance to attend Columbia University on a scholarship, and her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), who is determined that Ana follow convention and go to work with her in a Los Angeles sweatshop. Carmen's blithe cruelty comes out of love; she's ashamed of her daughter's zaftig figure and whittles away at Ana before the entire world.
"Real Women Have Curves" is full of pitched battles and comic set pieces at the sweatshop, brought about when Ana joins her mother and older sister to make some extra money. A couple of the scenes may feel a bit contrived; the comedy is at times a little obvious. But this is more than made up for by the film's simplicity and directness.
The shrewdness in "Curves" is that Ana is her mother's daughter: she gives as good as she gets. And the director, Patricia Cardoso, in her first full-length film, gives her puppyish star all the care that she deserves; it's a generosity we'd expect from a veteran. Ms. Cardoso is steady-handed, choosing against the blind pursuit of obsessive camera technique that's often the province of newly hatched filmmakers. (Maybe it's because she spent 10 years trying to get this film made.)
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